ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)
***½/**** Image B- Sound B Extras C
starring Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Albert, Hartley Power
screenplay by Ian McLellan Hunter and John Dighton
directed by William Wyler
**½/**** Image B Sound B Extras C
starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Walter Hampden
screenplay by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman, based on Taylor's play
directed by Billy Wilder
LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957)
[TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS COLLECTION: ROMANCE]
½*/**** Image C Sound B
starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, John McGiver
screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on a novel by Claude Anet
directed by Billy Wilder
NOW, VOYAGER (1942)
[TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS COLLECTION: ROMANCE]
**½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras D
starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper
screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty
directed by Irving Rapper
[TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS COLLECTION: ROMANCE]
*/**** Image C+ Sound B
starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardiner, Grace Kelly, Donald Sinden
screenplay by John Lee Mahin, based on a play by Wilson Collison
directed by John Ford
SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)
[TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS COLLECTION: ROMANCE]
****/**** Image B Sound B Extras D
starring Natalie Wood, Pat Hingle, Audrey Christie, Warren Beatty
screenplay by William Inge
directed by Elia Kazan
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. It's one of those seminal moments that movies provide the culture with now and again, like the swoop up a little rise to an impossibly fresh John Wayne in Stagecoach, or the intervention of a fortuitous steam vent in The Seven Year Itch, this introduction we have to Audrey Hepburn as she's whirled around in a barber chair in William Wyler's Roman Holiday to reveal the pixie-cut heard 'round the world. That she's adorable is a given--the real issue is whether she's an actress or just a bundle of inexplicable charisma, a ganglion of celluloid starlight that evaporates under the slightest critical scrutiny. I love Roman Holiday, but I vacillate between indifference and actual dislike of the rest of Hepburn's films. I don't find her winsome in Breakfast at Tiffany's, am irritated by her in Charade, think she's appallingly twee in Love in the Afternoon. She doesn't hold her own against Sean Connery in Robin and Marian and gets blown off the screen by Albert Finney, Alan Arkin, and Rex Harrison in Two for the Road, Wait Until Dark, and My Fair Lady, respectively. If you ask me, Audrey isn't an actress so much as someone you would like to have known and maybe had the opportunity to cuddle, which makes her mega-stardom in the Fifties and Sixties all the more testament to her ineffable appeal. Happening right when Method was rendering personalities like Hepburn déclassé, she was making a career of being terminally anachronistic. It's Ozzie's Harriet, sashaying while Rome burns. Instant nostalgia; even when she was introduced for the first time, it must have seemed like ages ago.
The story of her discovery the stuff of legend, from the awkward screen test to the initial refusal of a stage name, Hepburn in Roman Holiday is bratty Princess Ann, a monarch in 1953 who wants to throw off the chains of domesticity in the City of the Seven Hills. She sneaks away from her handlers in high Prince/Pauper style and into the bed--platonically--of handsome, hapless journalist Joe (Gregory Peck, thirteen years Hepburn's senior; more on this later), who, once he's figured out who he has between his sheets, decides to indulge her charade in hopes of landing the mother of all scoops. Along for the ride is paparrazo Irving (Eddie Albert, never better), contributing the lion's share of physical gags and masculine bonhomie as he and Joe--the elder statesmen, as it were--play the young princess for a fool. Lucky for her, Joe falls in love before he can well and truly punish her for her innocence. Roman Holiday introduces the Hepburn persona as one whose brightness and naivety lead to inevitable exploitation and abuse, although because she's so goddamned irrepressible, she eventually triumphs on the strength of her intimidating pluck. Hepburn's films tend to have her drunk on ether, walking on clouds, sobbing wretchedly, and then summoning courage--a little sadder, perhaps, because that's the only way we can suffer her continued existence. (Those seeking a template for Sally Hawkins's awesome performance in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, look no farther than the high concept of an Audrey Hepburn character plopped down in the real world.) The reason Roman Holiday works is because it understands Hepburn's place in the pantheon of Silver Screen icons: she's a Vestal Virgin, stoker of the sacred fire, punished with death by scourging should she--or anyone--sully her position through inattention or defilement.
Anyone who cares to know already knows that Roman Holiday, one of the most documented of films, was shot on location, that the moped and Mouth of Truth scenes were improvised, and that Peck insisted on sharing top-billing with Hepburn, so unerring was his intuition that she would be a phenomenon. What's less easy to quantify is a chemistry between Hepburn, Peck, and Albert that justifies the title's breezy promise, or the audience's identification with a young woman in that tumult of the early-Fifties who, at least for a while, rejects the responsibilities of a traditional role for the hope of a life lived in the pursuit of tiny victories won in the name of individuality and love. There's real joy in Hepburn's performance, and the extent to which stony Peck comes to life in her company is just this side of miraculous. Good thing Cary Grant turned down the role: him doing "in love" is rarely anything but reptilian and sardonic. (No wonder Hitchcock cast him as a sociopath, a wife killer, a jewel thief, and an ad exec.)
Leave it to Billy Wilder to try to capture Roman Holiday's lightning in a bottle with Sabrina, pairing Hepburn opposite another Old Hollywood old guy, Humphrey Bogart (thirty years her senior but married offscreen to a woman, Lauren Bacall, twenty-five years his junior), as a woman trying to kill herself before discovering her ain true love. Daughter of a chauffer and in love first with her own melancholy, find Hepburn cast often in the role of yearning ("Moon River" on a window sill, am I right?), because if there's anything that makes a puppy more unbearably adorable, it's to make it beg. Her Cinderella manqué Sabrina spies crush David (William Holden) in the arms of another and so cocoons herself in a garage full of cars she sets to running in a strange echo of Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.
Delightful misunderstandings occur; Sabrina's eyes turn to the older brother, stuffy, asexual Linus (Bogart); and, in a nod to Fifties social reorganization, she chooses stolid and boring over exciting but philandering. Hepburn's not about women's lib, although it's not always for lack of trying. It's a shame that she ever got mixed up with Wilder, truth be told, because Wilder's films are assholes: smug and arch and altogether too sexually aware, and I don't know that I'm entirely comfortable with Hepburn as sexual manipulator--or manipulated. In Sabrina, she's a pawn Linus tries to employ in a game of empire-building as Sabrina remakes herself in the role of continental sophisticate. It's telling that in her two Wilder flicks, the naïf persona that comes so preternaturally to Hepburn is forced to play sheep in wolf's clothing to keep the beat. Sabrina's fine if overlong and a lesser Wilder despite its reputation. But at least it's not Love in the Afternoon.
Hepburn should never get the "fuzzy end of the lollipop"--it certainly doesn't feel right in the context of frothy romantic comedy. Maybe that's the problem. Wilder's Love in the Afternoon is a remake in every way that matters of Tod Browning's Dracula (though Gary Cooper is more Boris Karloff than he is Bela Lugosi): the story of a young woman preyed upon by a much, much older man (Coop was thirty-one years her senior, and only four years away from death at the time of filming) who infects her, then suffers his downfall at her hands. Even specific scenes seem reconstituted with no small sense of black humour as playboy scumbag Frank's key romantic gesture is placing one of his giant, gnarled mitts on Audrey's tiny, stick-like, gamine neck and...squeezing. Weird, right? Gross, too, which describes Love in the Afternoon to a polished "t." Audrey here is Ariane (whenever anyone pronounces it, however, it sounds like "Ariel"--which would be a reference to another story featuring a wee lass and a geriatric wizard), daughter of Claude (Maurice Chevalier), a Parisian private detective hired, as the trauma opens, by a jealous husband (John McGiver) suspicious that his wife is Frank's latest notch. Despondent over bad news, the cuckold buys a pistol, inspiring eavesdropping Ariane to impersonate the slut in question in order to save the life of Frank the asshole. The masquerade continues, unfortunately, as Ariane nurses a crush on Hugh Hefner unrequited until she intimates, over many a tangled bedsheet, that she's no vestal virgin but rather some whore of Babylon. Listening to Hepburn number double-digit quick-fucks for the bemusement-into-sexual jealousy of paramour Frank isn't light and funny, but actually disgusting. Wilder's big joke is that he turns Marilyn Monroe into a rube and Hepburn into Cooper's personal fille de joie--shedding light on a similar act attempted on Shirley MacLaine over the course of their two movies together.
Get beyond the nastiness of the joke and Love in the Afternoon remains a nigh interminable flick short on laughs and long on awful montages and self-satisfaction. Romantic? Surely you jest. All the bad things about Wilder and few of the good, it's seasoned with what feels like the caprice of an older man (Wilder was twenty-three years older than Hepburn, too) conspiring with his dirty-old-men buddies (Chevalier was forty-one years older) on the best way to turn out little Audrey. Unlike the best of Wilder, you could likely blow cobwebs off this horrorshow from the day it was released. It's 1957's Girl with a Dragon Tattoo; suck on that, arthouse pinheads.
Love in the Afternoon has aged about as well as Irving Rapper's revered melodrama Now, Voyager, which boasts of a wall-to-wall score by Max Steiner so genuinely fucking awful that of course it's the only thing the film won an Oscar for. Consider that a key scene involving a bit of kissy-face in the backseat of a car stored in a ship's hold inspired an identical tryst in James Cameron's spiritual-cousin shitfest Titanic and suddenly you know everything you need know about this camp-classic garbage. (Fans of Bette Davis are far better served digging up The Letter.) If you're dying to see Paul Henreid light two cigarettes in his slack jaw, though, buckle your seatbelts, you're in for a surreal, sometimes-nightmarish ride as director Rapper demonstrates how he believes that he's doing a Universal monster movie whilst slathering on the Freud with a bricklayer's trowel. The picture is told in flash- backs and forwards (and told backwards and forwards) with devices like blowing journal pages and extreme soft-focus punctuating an arched-eyebrow cameo from Claude Rains as the head of a luxury asylum, to which our poor Charlotte (Davis) sequesters herself upon having a nervous breakdown from too much mother (Gladys Cooper). Key to her recovery is an extended cruise, during which she impersonates a French person (see: Audrey Hepburn's Wilder pictures) and falls in love with a man, Jerry (Henreid), embroiled in a loveless marriage...with two children. Luckily, one of the kids, Tina (Janis Wilson), is hysterically depressed--what with her Mrs. Bates wardrobe and Richard Kiel orthodonture--and needs to be sent away to the same asylum where Charlotte resequesters herself, leading to one of the strangest "marriages with children" this side of Provo. The conversations wherein Charlotte and Jerry talk about "their" child, Tina, are ageless in their oddity. Do they fuck? "Why ask for the moon when we have the stars?" Yeah. High melodrama interesting mainly for the extent to which Charlotte is allowed to choose independence over marriage in 1942 and discussable in that way as a glimpse at changing sexual attitudes with men away to WWII, Now, Voyager today plays as an unintentionally hilarious (Charlotte's hobby? Scrimshaw!), dreadfully overwrought artifact mainly understood as a drag burlesque. If you can resist Bette Davis in fat suit, hideous dress, and monobrow, you're not as gay as you think you are. I guess I kind of liked it. (Click here to read Alex Jackson's full-length review of the film.)
On the other hand, I really didn't like John Ford's staid, ridiculous remake of Clark Gable's terrific pre-Code adventure flick Red Dust, Mogambo, perhaps most famously the movie during which Ava Gardner had passionate fights/fucks with Frank Sinatra on location in Africa before excusing herself mid-shoot to have a pointed abortion. Sad the first of many adjectives that swim to mind, it's the movie, too, on which Gable--asked to reprise, as a palsied, wizened old guy, his Great White Hunter role--had an affair with young Grace Kelly, herself on the verge of stardom at the hands of Alfred Hitchcock. For the rare '50s movie shot on location, Ford sure makes it look studio-bound, replete with clumsy, 16mm rear projection and idiotic Gunga Din slapstick involving baby elephants and poor, blowsy Gardner, an overrated icon only ever good in Night of the Iguana and seemingly contractually obliged at this stage in her alcoholic descent to snarl "this joint" once per picture. Bad juju behind the camera with Gable, Ford, and Gardner at each others' throats translates somehow to a decided lack of passion before it as Gable has an onscreen affair with married Linda (Kelly) before realizing that his intended has been right there in front of his eyes the whole time. Mogambo is a real snoozer from start to finish, with some embarrassing treatment of native extras and constant interludes of "exciting" animal adventures clarifying this one as a bald attempt to capitalize on the recent success of King Solomon's Mines and the eternal success of bwana making snoosh schnu in the jungle (see: the also-boring Out of Africa). For a film of 1953, especially (it shared the screen with the superior likes of The Wild One and Beat the Devil), the tired back-and-forth and laboured line-readings place Mogambo as just another shovel of dirt on Old Hollywood as it rolls up its tents to make way for Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Montgomery Clift. Putting The African Queen to bed with its slippers, blanket, and Ovaltine is the best you could do for the poor dear.
Particularly when the new guard was bringing forth potent stuff like Method-guru Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass, showcasing in no uncertain terms the dire cost of a decade denying sex. A movie whose central dilemma is solved entirely by the characters fucking each other, see in it as well a pretty decent analysis of why young Born Agains are so dumb about themselves. Bud (Warren Beatty) and Deanie (Natalie Wood) are teenagers in love, but unlike in progressive French flicks such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, they don't have premarital sex and thus doom themselves to diversionary frustrations and dysfunction. (Yes, Genevieve has a baby out of wedlock, but Bud and Deanie never marry, spend time in the nuthatch, and blow any hope of a happy life en route to exactly the same ending.) A melodrama heavy on psychoanalysis like Now, Voyager but with the wherewithal to examine the toll of repression in realistic terms, Splendor in the Grass is a sometimes-devastating portrait of youth culture on the brink that suggests that the inauguration of the 1960s happens before the Cuban Missile Crisis, even--was maybe born in the impossible Ward & June baseline imposed by the Eisenhower Fifties. Even better that it's married to starmaking turns by Beatty (who would become one of the most important voices of this decade and the next) and Wood (who would become one of her generation's most poignant martyrs)--he in a Cliftian turn all shakily tamped-down desires and she a cat on a hot tin roof, doing her best not to rub out a big one in the bathtub with thoughts of Bud's hands running riot in her virginal spaces.
The film begins with extreme paranoia--faces in windows peering at our lovers as though they were fugitives. Indeed: aren't they? On the lam from their own lambent desires, licking hot at dew-covered surfaces... Beatty and Wood are almost too pretty to look at in Splendor in the Grass; it makes perfect sense that the disapproving faces gazing at them through panes of glass would call to mind our own salacious peepers, glued to a glowing portal playing out their frustrated circling for our tsk-tsk'ing entertainment. The film is musky. It's interesting to me that Kazan opened the Fifties with A Streetcar Named Desire's open courtyard of sin and closes it off a decade later with a mute chorus gathered to pass judgment from behind flower curtains. It's the 1968 Virginia Slims slogan, "You've come a long way, baby," rendered ironic by an actual closing off of carnality in the years between 1951 and 1961--Kazan correctly predicting that a torrent was soon to break down this particular cultural dam once and for good and without equivocation. Free Love is coming, and it's your fault, Mom and Pop. Splendor in the Grass is the answer to the suffocating mother figure of Now, Voyager; a real consequence for the depression and mania of Sabrina and the repression and frustration of Mogambo; and a horror movie without the snark of Love in the Afternoon. It's one of the key films of 1961--not the odd bait-and-switch of that year's Breakfast at Tiffany's (which answers the question of how Truman Capote gets neutered), but more in line with other masterpieces of that not-often-discussed annus mirabilus, i.e., The Misfits, West Side Story, The Hustler, One, Two, Three, One-Eyed Jacks... and that's just in the United States. Proving the maxim that you couldn't have the Seventies without the Sixties, the decade reveals itself upon inspection as almost as deep a well as the great American '70s: a tradition of cinema that refuted much of the nonsense that came before it, genre by genre. If that's not love, I don't know what is.
Paramount revives Roman Holiday and the original Sabrina on DVD in handsome, slipcovered Centennial Editions that would look great on my shelf, I'm sure, if I had a complete set of spine numbers (these are #s 2 and 3, for those keeping score). Roman Holiday receives a fresh encode in lip-smacking 1.33:1 fullscreen, toning down any compression issues that were inherent in the previous edition. The DD 2.0 mono audio is similarly crisp and presented without frills or argument. A very slight (4-page) insert booklet with brief notes in the style of TCM's "Why it's Essential" shares space with two discs in a regular-sized plastic keepcase. The first platter contains the movie proper along with a colorized (!) trailer for It's a Wonderful Life, reserving the second for a surprisingly sparse collection of extras. "Restoring Roman Holiday" (7 mins.) is what it is and not nearly as illuminating as a pair of docs jettisoned from the picture's prior release on the format, replacing them with "Audrey Hepburn: The Paramount Years" (30 mins.). Doing the basics on the legend in hagiography form, it dwells overlong, methinks, on her loyalty to poor designer Givenchy, robbed by Edith Head and the studio system but Hepburn's clothier forever after. Yawn. "Rome with a Princess" (9 mins.) revisits a few locations from the shoot, while the real meat is reserved for "Dalton Trumbo: From A-List to Blacklist" (12 mins.), a piece that goes into some gratifying depth on the toll and outrage of Hollywood's darkest period. "Behind the Gates: Costumes" (5 mins.) and "Paramount in the 50s" (10 mins.) are self-aggrandizing horseshit documentaries no doubt chiefly intended to hawk the rest of the films upcoming in this round of reissues. A stills gallery fills out the presentation.
A/V is identically configured/proficient for Paramount's Centennial Sabrina and noticeably improved over the 2001 platter, particularly in its decreased edge-enhancement and cleaner sound. Supplementals are again relegated to the second disc, beginning with the recycled "Paramount in the 50s". "Audrey Hepburn: Fashion Icon" (18 mins.) is a fashion show of Audrey's wardrobe from her Paramount vehicles with commentary by fashionista Eddie Bledsoe and designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Cynthia Rowley. It's not remotely interesting to me but I won't say it's without interest. "Sabrina's World" (11 mins.) is another travelogue of locations and "Supporting Sabrina" (17 mins.) narrows its focus to the typically nice supporting cast Wilder assembled around his star victims and predators. "William Holden: The Paramount Years" (24 mins.) is an edgeless puff piece about the tempestuous, fascinating Holden that doesn't really provide a good handhold into the actor but does deliver a passably entertaining bit of fluff. Finally, "Behind the Scenes: Camera" (5 mins.) is a fitfully interesting technical featurette on the equipment used to shoot some of our favourite Paramount pictures coming soon to a slipcovered, dual-disc presentation near you. Stills galleries round out this release as well.
Now, Voyager, Splendor in the Grass, Mogambo, and Love in the Afternoon occupy two flippers in one of TCM's Greatest Classic Films Collections, this one colon-ized with the "Romance" imprimatur. Though suitably garish, the Technicolor of Mogambo (standard 1.33:1) isn't always in perfect register, and the video has a fuzziness that dates it back to the analog era. Now, Voyager (standard 1.33:1) impresses less in the post-Blu-ray era but outside of moiré issues my player itself may have introduced in the upconversion, it remains a handsome, lucid transfer. (That said, the impressive clarity brings into relief the film's overreliance on stock footage in establishing the fateful ocean liner.) Love in the Afternoon (1.78:1/16x9) fares the worst, but I hold Wilder's smartass soft-focus treatment of a despicable, ugly topic largely accountable. Still, the print is pretty banged up, and the image is mildewed in a way that, like Mogambo, implies it hasn't been run through a telecine this decade. While Splendor in the Grass (1.78:1/16x9) is not as vivid as I would have liked, it's not a Douglas Sirk, after all, so I'm not complaining too much. The bigger issue is a palpable amount of DVNR that succeeds only in robbing Boris Kaufman's cinematography of texture. No real complaints about the uniformly clean, clear DD 1.0 mono audio mixes, the quality of which vary imperceptibly. As for bonus material, Splendor in the Grass offers up a typical Road Runner short (Beep Prepared (7 mins.)) and a vintage trailer while Love in the Afternoon gifts us with a horrific trailer and text-based cast-and-crew bios that essentially spare 100 words apiece for a few of the most revered personages in Hollywood history. Whatevs. Mogambo does the trailer, no bio; Now, Voyager, horrors, not only does the trailer, but also includes a page detailing the awards this heap won once upon a time plus a selection of music cues that allow you to receive a sloppy blowjob from six Steiner compositions without having to suffer the film again. So there's that. Originally published: June 29, 2010.